Sunday, January 23, 2011

Messages to Councillors about cuts

I think that the following letter which has been prepared by the Coalition of Resistance for local Councillors, whilst far too long to be read by many elected representatives, makes a better stab of effective communication than simply sloganising. It’s getting a bit late in the day to influence budget setting in local authorities, but there’s still a point in answering the “we have no alternative” line from Labour Councillors.

Dear Councillor,
You will soon be discussing your council’s budget and we are sure you are under pressure from central government to impose cuts and slash local services.The coalition government has made a political choice with these cuts to the jobs and services of our communities. The Tories have seized the opportunity of the crisis of a system of unregulated banking which puts profits before people in order to dismantle our welfare state. The poorest and most vulnerable are being made to pay whilst the wealthiest continue to line their pockets with bonuses and by avoiding taxation. The sums speak for themselves:
Benefit cuts over the next four years: £18 billion
Cuts in education and local services: £16 billion
Bank profits for this year alone: £28 billion
Tax avoidance and evasion: over £100 billion per year.

But just as the government has a choice, so do you as a local councillor.We therefore call upon you to join with the Coalition of Resistance, local anti-cuts campaigns, community organisations and trade-unions to explain that these cuts are not necessary, that ordinary people should are not responsible for this “odious” banking debt, and that this government has no mandate for rolling back of the welfare state.
We all need to work together to mobilise our communities against the cuts on a local and national level. We are suggesting below some steps you could take as a councillor in this campaign against the government’s cuts:
Move a resolution in the Council condemning the Government’s huge cuts programme and supporting campaigns, trade- unions and community organisations taking action.
Issue a press statement alerting the public of the impact the cuts will have, explaining where the responsibility lies, and calling on local people to mobilise to defend their public services.
Organise meetings in every ward to explain the cuts and to call upon local people to mobilise alongside anti-cuts campaigns, community organisations and trade-unions to halt the Government’s attacks on their services.
Contact other councillors in your region, and even around Britain, to organise a conference to establish what tactics can be used in the Council to frustrate the Government’s plans, and how to link up with the anti-cuts movement.
Use all your efforts and resources to ensure the maximum possible turn-out from your community on the “All together for public services and jobs” demonstration called by the TUC for Saturday 26 March in London.

In discussing your budget, we urge you to bear in mind that Councils are large organisations with complex finances which give them much leeway. Here are some of the measures you could take to avoid cuts in services and jobs:
Bringing services back in house to save money. Services run for profit provide poorer outcomes and are less efficient than those run directly by the council.
Cutting top management pay and councillors’ expenses.
Stopping the use the consultants and instead employing directly staff.
Using reserves, juggling accounts to move spending items from one financial year to the next, and borrowing (although there are legal limits on councils borrowing, there may still be loopholes).

However, when the budget is finally due to be voted on, we urge you and your colleagues in the Council to stand by your community and to be with the anti-cuts movement. This can only mean refusing to vote for any cuts in services and redundancies.
If together, councils refused to cut public services and jobs, then the government would have to backtrack. The mobilisation of students against the rise in fees has forced concessions and thrown the Coalition into crisis. We now need to continue with the campaign against the government’s attack on our welfare state.
The Coalition of Resistance believes that the public has a right to know what their elected representatives plan to do when the local council budgets are being decided, and if they will defend all the public services for communities.
We hope that you will join with us in this resistance against this government and we look forward to hearing from you.
Yours, etc

For those in London who are talking to local Councillors about whether they have any leeway to take money from reserves as an alternative to balancing their budget at the expense of jobs and services, this table shows the level of unallocated reserves held by each London Borough at the end of the last financial year (the equivalent of having money – rather than an overdraft – the day before pay day);

London Boroughs Unallocated reserves at 31/03/10 (£000s)
Bromley 51,855
Camden 32,100
Westminster 31,734
Lambeth 28,111
Tower Hamlets 27,102
Newham 25,050
Wandsworth 20,085
Hillingdon 18,900
Southwark 18,197
Greenwich 16,463
Barnet 15,780
Ealing 15,241
Hammersmith & Fulham 15,000
Hackney 15,000
Redbridge 14,639
Enfield 12,687
Havering 12,665
Islington 11,939
Bexley 11,846
Lewisham 11,511
Richmond upon Thames 10,705
Haringey 9,902
Sutton 9,156
Brent 8,963
Kensington & Chelsea 8,669
Barking & Dagenham 8,065
Waltham Forest 8,008
Harrow 6,294
Kingston upon Thames 3,984
Merton 767
Hounslow 505
Croydon 0


For most boroughs these amounts are nowhere near the totals they will be looking to cut to balance their budgets for 2011/12. There is no easy quick fix to save most Councils from savage cuts.

However, we can certainly argue to Councillors that they are not entitled simply to blame the Government for the totality of cuts they are making if they aren’t leaning on their Chief Finance Officers to bring these unallocated reserves down to the very lowest level. At the end of the last financial year, the total unallocated reserves held by London Boroughs amounted to £480 Million.

More importantly, union members who may not (yet) be persuaded that we can realistically expect our employers to set an unbalanced budget may be more willing to believe that Councillors can save jobs and services rather then hoard millions unproductively.

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